STAR PREVIEW: England v France

It is often said that revenge is a dish best served cold and England – who have been waiting for some time – will fancy their chances of giving France payback for their defeat last season.

That 22-16 loss in a pulsating encounter at the Stade de France came at the beginning of what was a dire period for Eddie Jones and his men, but they have recovered since then and arguably put on one of their best performances when beating previous tournament favourites Ireland, with the result being that they are now 5/6 to take the crown.

France could – and in the eyes of many – should be coming here off the back of a win, but from 16-0 up at halftime they literally managed to throw away what looked a certain victory and now they have a tall task to keep their tournament hopes alive.

England’s success in Dublin was a brilliant all round performance, but it relied a huge amount upon defence. Firstly, the incredible line speed of the whole side always made life difficult for Ireland in attack but Johnathan Sexton was brilliantly targeted, with the fly half unable to run the game with his typically strategic set plays. England also clamped down hard against Ireland’s box kicking, with Ireland having the double blow of being unable to get their usual distance, along with facing serious competition in the air from England’s back three. Conor Murray’s 17 kicks only reached an average of 23 metres.

Secondly, was the pure physical domination that England brought to the game. Jones has always prided himself upon bringing a physical performance – and indeed, he said as much in the lead up to the game – but even then this was a staggering show of force.

A dominant tackle is judged to be when the defender makes contact and drives the attacker back in one movement. According to the 6 Nations themselves, and the analyst Simon Gleave, England recorded 48 to Ireland’s 8 last Saturday. Mako Vunipola and Mark had nine and seven dominant tackles respectively and overall England had twice as many dominant tackles as any side during the first weekend.

The sheer numbers England put on in defence tell their own story. In the shape of Mako Vunipola (31 tackles made), Mark Wilson (27 tackles made), Tom Curry (23) and Jamie George (22) England had four of the top five tacklers in the entire Championship last week and the lack of time afforded to the opposition reduced them to only a handful of real opportunities.

From then, the slick passing and exceptional kicking of Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs put Manu Tuilagi – exceptional on his frontline return to Six Nations action – onto fast ball and he linked beautifully with Henry Slade, who grabbed two well deserved tries. Elliot Daly and Johnny May in particular chased wonderfully, and it is a surprise to see Jack Nowell left out after he had an outstanding game.

It is a common rugby cliché that you can never tell what France side will turn up, but we literally saw two different teams for their opener against Wales. The first half saw a French side that was commanding, focused, and remarkably accurate in torrential conditions, with two really well put together tries and a nearly 40 metre drop goal to go in 16-0 up.

The second 40 saw them somehow concede a 16-point lead, with two tries gifted – and that is being generous – to the opposition, one of them a thirty metre attempted pass from a second rower who didn’t know he was the on field captain.

It would be easy to say that if the side which played the first 40 came out, then England would have a challenge, but unsurprisingly France have made a huge amount of changes. Six of them have been made by Jacques Brunel, with Yoann Hughet replacing Maxime Medard and shifting to fullback, whilst Gaël Fickou takes the 11 jersey.

Jacques Bruenl has also named a new midfield combination, with with Mathieu Bastareaud and Geoffrey Doumayrou taking over from Wesley Fofana and Romain Ntamack at outside and inside centre respectively, meaning there are four centres in the starting XV.

There’s also changes in the pack, as Paul Willemse drops to the replacements bench to be replaced by Félix Lambey and Yacouba Camara starts on the blindside flank in Wenceslas Lauret’s place, whilst Demba Bamba takes over from Uini Atonio at tighthead prop.

It’s hard to expect any sort of continuity, although it’s pretty obvious that the heavy hitting pack – last weeks was the heaviest in French rugby history at 150st and 3lbs – seven stone heavier than their Welsh counterparts. However, that alone is unlikely to be enough against an England side of equal if not greater physicality.

That fact is very important given the crummy weather forecast at Twickenham, which promises rain (an 80% chance), low temperatures and strong (16mph) north west wind. That makes a 14-point handicap for England even harder to weigh up – Ireland only got within 12 thanks to a late breakaway try on the 80th minute.

Despite dreadful weather, there were five tries between France and Wales last week – even taking into account that two of them were gifts, and France certainly didn’t have an issue with handling or offloading during the first half when they were completely dominant.

England will be looking for a fast start, something which they have really rediscovered recently. In their last four tests, they have managed to score the first try, all before five minutes. Against New Zealand Chris Ashton was over before 2 minutes had shown on the clock, Danny Care made the early breakthrough against Japan, and against Australia and Ireland Johnny May finished slick first moves.

Chris Ashton has been put back into the side in place of Jack Nowell (surprisingly) but the now Sale man is sure to be on the end of any traditional attacking moves if England have an early chance and 13/2 is tempting enough to back him to score first. Also, Henry Slade makes appeal to score another try again. He profits a great deal from the heavy carrying of Manu Tuilagi and close to the tryline that could give him a big chance.

Guinness 6 Nations
England v France
February 10th, 2019
Kick-off: 3:00pm
Twickenham, London

(Maximum 10 matches)
2018: France won 22-16 in Paris
2017: England won 19-16 in London
2016: England won 31-21 in Paris
2015: France won 25-20 in Paris
2015: England won 19-14 in London
2015: England won 55-35 in London
2014: France won 26-24 in Paris
2013: England won 23-13 in London
2012: England won 24-22 in Paris
2011: France won 19-12 in Auckland

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell

France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Damien Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gaël Fickou, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Félix Lambey, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot

Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Thomas Ramos

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK England to win by 1-12 points 4 pts at 7/4 with
BACK Henry Slade Anytime Tryscorer 2 pts at 5/2 with
BACK Chris Ashton First Tryscrorer 2 pts at 13/2 with
BACK England Try First Scoring Play 2 pts at 9/4 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 226.64 points
(excluding Premier League ante-post and Six Nations ante-post)